Reviewed by Phyllis Goldman
Presented by and at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., NYC, Jan. 11, 13, and 14.
Perhaps "Perfume de Gardenias," José Navas' piece for the Altogether Different series at the Joyce, should be retitled "Is This Nudity Necessary?" Surely, such long periods of frontal exposure get one to thinking…and not necessarily about the choreography. Though sandwiched between the dropped drawers and lifted tees are some well thought out phrases of movement performed by gutsy dancers, the emphasis seems to be on showing it all. The music is a strange conglomeration of percussion, church bells, loud noises, clapping, and assorted sounds, arranged by Pierre Berthet, Joao de Bruco, Laurent Masle, and Bob Ostertag to the dismay of the eardrum.
It would seem Navas is prompted by (we assume) an abusive childhood, a coming-to-terms with sexuality, and other heady material too abstract to define. In fact, most of the 70-minute piece was indefinable, starting with the excessively loud warnings from a higher authority. "Don't make any mess on the sofa," one of many admonishments that indicate our protagonist is having a hard time growing up well. However, the rampant symbolism that follows clogs the progression of this work.
"Mom and Dad" figures enter unclothed and do a lot of standing and staring, while the other four members of the group try to decide whether their clothes come off or stay put. Now things nearly become laughable, because sanity seems to have been challenged here. "Dad" has a seizure of sorts, while the dancers continue in ensemble repetitive choreography, and Navas (also naked) makes an endless cross at the back of the stage, returning long-stemmed flowers to an upright position. Is this symbolic—a rebirth of sorts? It seems Navas is trying for a "Pina Bausch" moment, but whereas Bausch is a genius at making a slow cross hypnotic, Navas simply creates an uneasiness that makes the red exit sign look very inviting.